INTERVIEW: Todd Farmer brings ‘Heavenly Sword’ from video game to DVD

Courtesy of Bender Helper Impact
Courtesy of Bender Helper Impact

Todd Farmer, writer of My Bloody Valentine and Drive Angry, has adapted the popular video game Heavenly Sword into a new animated feature film, set to be released on DVD, Blu-ray and digital Tuesday, Sept. 2. In the movie, Nariko (voiced by Fringe’s Anna Torv) heads out on a journey to defeat King Bohan (voiced by Alfred Molina). Her means of defense is the “heavenly sword,” a magical device with powers worthy of a deity.

Farmer became attached to the project after heading to E3 with the producers of the film. They looked around for video games that would make good movie adaptations and landed on Heavenly Sword.

“I love the game because the story was so good,” Farmer said recently during a phone interview. “I started out my first console was Pong. I went through Doom and Wolfenstein and up through Tomb Raider and everything else, and this [Heavenly Sword] was the first game that actually had a real emotional story. So it was a pleasure to take this to the screen.”

Farmer said he didn’t seek to reinvent the wheel. He followed the overall narrative arc of the video game and then added in some twists and turns along the way. The characters will be familiar to gamers as well, although there are some newcomers.

“I mean Nariko, for instance, she’s a character who was born to a man who was completely disappointed in her, and so she carries that burden — and not just a burden of a father who is disappointed in her, but an entire nation that’s disappointed in her because she wasn’t the chosen one. So that’s beautiful. I mean when you’re writing a regular live-action movie, you want a character like that. You want someone who has that sort of cross to bear. So it was wonderful to work on.”

Farmer said he loves writing empowered female characters. Nariko in the movie doesn’t set out on her journey to prove something to her father; she tries to achieve her goals for her own reasons. “She did it because it was the right thing to do, and that’s beautiful,” he said. “That’s an everyman-every woman kind of character. That’s Bruce Willis in Die Hard. That’s the hero’s journey, and that’s what you want in a character. … In video games you get a caricature, and you’re basically hacking and slashing.”

A scene featuring Nariko from 'Heavenly Sword,' out on DVD Sept. 2 — Photo courtesy of Bender Helper Impact
A scene featuring Nariko from ‘Heavenly Sword,’ out on DVD Sept. 2 — Photo courtesy of Bender Helper Impact

Because the movie features CGI, there were no boundaries as far as the fantasy world Farmer was able to create and adapt from the video game. He said if Heavenly Sword were made into a live action film it would easily command a $200 million budget.

“From a storyteller’s point of view it’s such a freeing thing to be able to create these wide open set pieces and go back and forth and blow things up and destroy sets so easily and rebuild them,” he said. “There’s a freedom that you do not get inside live action. You still have to work within certain restraints because it still does cost money to animate this stuff; it’s just not on the level that you get with live action.”

There are some changes from the video game to the movie. In the original, Nariko is reactive, stuck in a level-based environment with individual goals. She lacks an overall sweeping mission. By adding a few more characters in the narrative, Farmer was able to achieve an arc worthy of 90 minutes.

“She has a goal that she needs to go through burden after burden and obstacle after obstacle to get to this goal, and so that was some of the things that we needed to add. So while everything that you love about the game is there, we also have twists and turns that you won’t see coming.”

Farmer said he is open to more video game adaptations, although he’ll probably always keep a foot in the horror genre. He has recently been working on horror and comedy scripts. “Hollywood now doesn’t seem to pigeon-hole you as bad as they used to. It’s basically what can you write that can make us money. If you can understand that, you can keep writing forever.”

There might even be mileage for more Heavenly Sword films. Farmer would love to explore Nariko’s universe. “I like the idea to write a scary movie and then turn around and write something that’s basically fantasy,” he said. “And that’s what this is, and I love fantasy. That’s what I grew up with. I grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons. I grew up reading all the [JRR] Tolkien books.”

No matter what Farmer’s next project is, there’s a good chance he’ll continue playing Heavenly Sword.

“I’ve played it within the last year. It’s one of my favorite games,” he said. “And the gameplay was phenomenal, and it’s also the first game that forced me to use a controller. … It will always hold a special place in my heart for making me go outside my comfort zone.”

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Heavenly Sword is released on DVD, Blu-ray and digital Tuesday, Sept. 2.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications.

E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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